Welcome back, dice fondlers! You may have noticed that I was absent last week. While I endeavor to always be prompt with new articles, a combination of events got the better of me. Illness had me scrambling at the deadline in order to try and get an article to you… and then we lost a furry family member. As I put these words together for you each week, I want you to get a sense of the joy and excitement I have for the world of role-playing and its infinitely bizarre and wonderful flavors. Last week, I just didn’t have the heart for it after we lost our Toby.
However, the show must go on, and what better way to honor my little furry friend than with the simple and wonderful RPG, “Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes” by John Wick.
Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes
I have written about the works of John Wick before and I want to stress something. John is one of a handful I designers I can think of off the top of my head that you cannot confine to a single system. Where many gamers can settle into D&D or GURPS or World of Darkness and never need to move on from those systems ever again, there are those who are infinitely restless. These designers are always digging to get to the core of a concept, to find just the right design to give the folks at the table the ability to tell a very specific kind of story in a certain variety of ways.
This is exceptionally evident in Cat, an RPG that takes up only 23 sheets of letter paper folded in half to make a booklet. A quarter of those pages or better are devoted to setting up the world of Cat, a feat that scores of larger RPGs have tried to do and failed wildly.
However, instead of boring the reader, this fiction sets the relationship between cat and human— cats are the true rulers of the world. They protect their poor, ignorant, helpless humans by hunting the ghastly Boggins that feed off of human weakness, like fear and laziness.
Cats can see these things in the waking world and travel through the dream world, risking their nine lives to protect the weakest of the species who took part in the Contest to Rule the World. The dogs resent the cats, as they came in second, and as such, only received seven lives instead of the cats’ nine. Of course, to the humans, the world of Cat is no different than our own. Now, I can just see you folks reading this start to raise your eyebrow as you remember the last time your cat yowled at a blank spot on the wall and have started to imagine some sort of monster there. Good. Keep that image in your head and you’ll play this game just fine.
Create Your Own Kitty Overlord
Our cat characters themselves are equally sensible, having attributes unique to our feline friends.
First, your Cat has six Attributes: Claws, Coat, Face, Fangs, Legs, and Tail. In game terms, each of these controls an aspect of your feline’s life— be it your Tail controlling magic, or your Face being the source of all your senses.
One of these will be your Best Trait, with a bonus of 5. Then, you have three traits labeled Strong with a bonus of 4. Finally, you have two last traits that are Good, with a bonus of 3. Each of these numbers determines the amount of dice you’ll use to complete challenges.
A Cool Cat with Nine Lives & Three Names
Moving on from traits, you have Name, or should I say names.
Cats have three names— one given to them by humans, one that other cats and their close friends know them by, and their secret name that no one but them knows. If a Boggins ever learns the cat’s secret name, the cat will no longer be able to see any of the Boggins that lurk in the corners of our homes until they get a new one. To do that, they take a special journey through the
Your Cat also has a Reputation (technically, Reputations). You have seven points to give to yourself denoting how the feline world knows you. For example, a Cat that always seems to escape danger might be The Quick or The Daring, where a Cat who often brings home dead rodents might be called Rat-Killer. These Reputations will be able to be used to give us more dice when attempting things we are known for. However, we also risk losing ranks permanently if we act contrary to our Reputation. Finally, our Cat begins with 9 lives— one of the perks of winning the Contest to Rule the World.
The remaining mechanics are fairly simple. When we face a Risk, we determine what Trait is appropriate for our response and roll that many six-sided dice. An easy task requires us to one even die, moderate requires two evens, and difficult tasks require three. Similarly, there are requirements for the number of evens to be rolled to make changes to the dreamworld, or to enact Cat Magic. If we get into a fight or fail a dangerous activity, we take damage equal to the number of even dice scored against us, and they accumulate against our Traits as Scars. Each Scar decreases a die by one level, until maxing out at three Scars meaning that that Trait has been Crippled and is no longer usable. Lives can be used to ignore all the Scars scored in a single round, or to succeed perfectly at a single Risk, but once all our Lives are gone, or four of our Traits are Crippled, our Cat passes on.
There are a handful of other mechanics that you can work
into your game tucked into the tiny package of Cat, but I’ll leave them for you
to discover when you check it out. Like any John Wick game, it is designed so
that rules are not 100% spelled out in order to allow rules to be massaged into
a shape more pleasing to the participants at the table. For such a small
package, Cat is a truly delightful little game that I hope you give a try the
next time you need a game that is simple and easy to pick up, but wonderful all
That’s all for this week. I hope you all give your furbabies a squeeze if you have them and enjoy some great gaming. If you’re in Michigan, maybe I’ll see you at Washi-Con on Saturday… that
Next week, we’ll be back again with another gem from the treasure trove of RPGs, but until then….